While we might sing songs like “Silent Night” at Christmas, there is nothing silent about New Year’s celebrations. Although the music, laughter, and fireworks die down after January 1, the excitement continues into the following weeks as we seek to make the new year better than the previous one.
Celebrating the beginning of a new year is an old tradition. It was important even in biblical times. While their year began on a different day than ours, how they celebrated a new year is interesting, and can even show us how we can get our year off to a great start. Here are three stories and lessons we can learn from them.
Celebrate God’s guidance and providence in advance. (Exodus 12:18)
After 400 years of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites found themselves staying up all night, getting ready to make their exit the next day. To celebrate their imminent deliverance, God proclaimed a special holiday to forever mark this occasion upon their minds. Passover would become a weeklong celebration that would take place every year on the 14th day of the first month of the year.
While we may not have a precise timeline for when God will bring us through our troubles, we can anticipate his deliverance just as the Israelites did. The Israelites didn’t wait until they were free from the grips of Pharaoh’s reign to celebrate. They celebrated beforehand because they trusted in God to keep His word based on what He had done in the past.
Make spending time with God a priority. (Exodus 40:2)
As the Israelites began their journey towards the Promised Land, God instructed them to build a portable tabernacle. This tent of meeting allowed them to commune with Him wherever they were stationed in the wilderness. Once everything was complete, God told Moses to hold the grand opening of the tabernacle on the first day of the year.
What better way to open the new year than to spend time with God? It doesn’t matter if we meet at a little country church with creaky, wooden floorboards, or a megachurch in the city, or a goatskin tent in the wilderness like the Hebrews, or on Zoom because of the pandemic. Like Jesus told the woman at the well in John chapter 4, the place of meeting isn’t as important as having a sincere heart seeking spiritual truth. While it is true that we are to seek opportunities to assemble together, we don’t have to wait for a group to gather to experience “the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
Follow God’s call in a new direction. (Ezra 7:8-10).
The Israelites eventually made it to the Promised Land, but the people had a habit of drifting back and forth from God. Breaking their covenant with God led to their captivity in Babylon. In His mercy, God again delivered them through the Persian kingdom, which conquered the Babylonians. This didn’t make them completely free, but the Persians allowed the Hebrews to move back to their homeland and rebuild their temple.
Ezra, a priest, was among those who returned to Jerusalem to remind the people of how God had led them in the past and the importance of following His law for their future prosperity. Without hesitation, Ezra departed from Babylon on the first day of the year to begin his five- month journey home.
While you might not have a five-month journey by foot ahead of you like Ezra, are you willing to follow God wherever He leads? Like the people of Israel, you may have drifted from the calling God has placed on your life. However, God has provided a way to rebuild your future. Just as there was a lamb sacrificed for Passover in Exodus, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. His sacrificial love gives us a new start. The journey may seem long and difficult like Ezra’s, but God’s “gracious hand” will be on you, too.